Bargaining for Bucks
With projected Maui County funds even lower than last year, Molokai residents, from middle schoolers to kupuna, made their voices heard in asking for their share. They provided testimony before Maui County’s Budget and Finance Committee members last week in support of local organizations and programs such as Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO), the Molokai Humane Society (MoHS), the Molokai Community Service Council (MCSC) and Kuha`o Business Center.
The Committee is holding district meetings throughout the county to receive testimony on the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget that Mayor Alan Arakawa submitted to the Council at the end of March. They have until June 10 to pass revisions, and the final budget will take effect on July 1, according to Vice-Chair Joseph Pontanilla.
“Going out into the community and receiving public input is an important part of the budget process,” said Pontanilla in a press release. “Because we expect county revenues to be even lower than last year, we must focus our efforts, and avoid funding popular desirables that come at the expense of necessities.”
While the Council is trying to stretch the budget so that programs in need can receive sustained funding, there are certain considerations, according to Council Member Elle Cochran. “My concern is when does it become the point when having less is negatively impacting the services the community needs?”
Different sectors of the MEO program received a lot of support by residents. Many advocated for its transportation service, the only public bus on Molokai.
“With gas prices so high, MEO provides transportation for kupuna, children and students,” said one community member. “For some families, this is the only mode of transportation.”
Resident Macy Simmons, a single working mother, advocated for the Head Start Program, one of the Early Childhood Services provided by MEO. “I used to have to pay $400 a month for child care,” said Simmons. “If it weren’t for [Head Start], I would not be able to go to work or anything.”
The Molokai Humane Society, which caters to the needs of animals on Molokai, also requested sustained funding.
“Your funding allows the Humane Society to…address issues related to feral cat management, community education, and provision of low or no cost fees to residents of Molokai,” wrote Board Member Luanne Cefola in a letter to the Council. With funding from the county as well as private donations, the Humane Society was able to secure the organization’s first-ever full-time veterinarian, Dr. Stewart Morgan, last November, according to MoHS Executive Director Jennifer Whitted.
Many voices also spoke on behalf of the MCSC and its subsidiary programs, including the Molokai Youth Center. One of the youths, Tanner Moser, provided testimony in front of the Council. “[The Youth Center] provides a safe environment where my friends and I can hang out and get our homework done without distractions,” he said.
MCSC Executive Director Karen Holt and long-time employee Betty Gene Dudoit asked for continued funding. Because they are a nonprofit organization operating 54 hours per week, the county’s financial support is essential, they said.
“We stretch that dollar because there is a need and we want to meet that need and that’s why we are here,” said Dudoit.
Other parties who testified represented the Boy Scouts of America, Molokai Homestead Alliance, Molokai Occupational Center, Molokai Island Foundation, Maui/Molokai Invasive Species Committee, UH Maui College, Molokai Livestock Co-Op and Molokai Visitors Association.
The Budget and Finance Committee will continue these meetings throughout the County for the month of April before submitting their version of the Budget by June 10. The next and last meeting that will be open to public testimony will be on April 11 in Lahaina, Maui.
Photo by Eileen Chao.